The relationship between Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed and Atlanta Housing Authority CEO Renee Glover may have been doomed from the start.
The two never did get an opportunity to forge a working partnership — unlike Glover’s relationship with her predecessors. The estranged situation further unraveled earlier this month when the authority announced that Glover and the AHA board were negotiating her departure.
Questions now revolve on how and why the relationship between Glover and the mayor got so off track and what impact it might have on the housing of the poor in the City of Atlanta.
Glover has been a nationally-acclaimed public housing official who has been credited for transforming dozens of the city’s dilapidated housing projects into mixed-income communities. Henry Cisneros, former U.S. Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, praised Glover in a related story.
Given Glover’s national reputation and track record, several of Atlanta’s top business and civic leaders have been perplexed by the breakdown of the AHA relationship with City Hall.
In an hour-long interview Sunday evening, Reed offered his perspective of what went wrong. And he also acknowledged that as a new mayor: “I wanted to pick my own team.”
Reed got elected in November, 2009. When Glover and Reed would run into each other at social or business occasions, Glover told the new mayor she wanted to get on his calendar.
But Reed said he was absorbed in putting together the city’s budget and resolving a $48 million budget deficit and selecting his administration’s cabinet. “Renee Glover’s tenure at the Atlanta Housing Authority was not a priority for me,” Reed said. “I was not in any hurry or any rush to make a change at AHA.”
Then on June 21, 2010, the Atlanta Housing Authority approved a five-year, $1.5 million employment contract for Glover — her fifth contract since being named as AHA’s CEO in 1994. That move may have permanently poisoned any opportunity for Reed and Glover to develop a working relationship.
The mayor has said that the contract was approved by a “lame-duck” board. At that meeting, four directors unanimously approved the contract: Chair Cecil Phillips (whose term expires on Sept. 16, 2012), Justine Boyd, (whose term was to expire on Feb. 7, 2011), Margarette White, (whose term was to expire June 18, 2011); and Elder Brown (whose term had expired on Dec. 7, 2009).
Two other board members were not present at that meeting — Eva Davis and Carol Jackson. And Mayor Reed, who has the authority to name AHA board members, had not yet selected someone to fill the seat held by Aaron Watson, who had been elected to the Atlanta’s City Council.
Former Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin said that the June, 2010 board was empowered and “had the authority to act” on Glover’s contract.
But Reed said he had “definitely made it clear that I would have a problem” with Glover getting a lucrative five-year contract. And he felt that his wishes had been ignored, which he described as “a tactical” error.
On the other hand, Glover had operated with a contract during her entire tenure at AHA, and it was up for renewal.
“We had a polite relationship up until that contract was awarded,” Reed said of Glover. “After that, there was no reason to have a conversation.”
That was unusual given past practices between the city and AHA.
Franklin, who had worked for two mayors — Maynard Jackson and Andrew Young — before becoming mayor said that City Hall had always worked closely with the authority.
“It would be surprising if the mayor and the executive director of the housing authority had not been in conversations from the first months he was in office,” Franklin said. “Ideally everybody would be working in concert. Ideally there would be open lines of communications between the mayor and the head of the housing authority.”
Franklin said that under Glover’s leadership, Atlanta became a model for how to transform public housing communities.
“Renee has been viewed as an individual who is professional, hard working, honest and inclusive in the planning process with a clear vision of how to break the cycle of poverty,” Franklin said. “During my term in office, AHA was getting positive reviews from HUD for every aspect of its work, often getting a 100 percent score.”
But Reed was not so enamored with Glover’s management of AHA. Soon he named his own authority board members — led by Dan Halpern, who had been chairman of his mayoral campaign.
“I believe in robust oversight, and that’s what Dan Halpern has been involved in while he’s been on the board,” Reed said. “In my mind she was not open to that oversight.”
Reed was particularly displeased that AHA had a contract with an outside public relations firm to handle communications — Alisas — for $750,000 a year. “Dan took her on over a $750,000 PR contract that he felt was inappropriate,” Reed said. “It was unconscionable.”
The mayor also mentioned two other issues at AHA that he said was cause for concern. He questioned a $10 million contract that the AHA had awarded to the Boston Consulting Group.
In response, AHA spokesman Rick White of Alisas said the BCG contract was awarded through a competitive process and covered numerous assignments including the overhauling of business processes, IT, organizational structure and benchmarking studies. Those improvements are expected to reduce AHA’s annual operating costs by $4 million.
Reed also questioned whether the AHA board, before he had named his own appointments, had provided the necessary oversight during the Glover administration of the agency.
“In 10 years, she has not had an item rejected by the board,” Reed said. “She ran that organization with no oversight for 10 years.”
AHA, however, is held accountable through numerous federal agencies. Also, its board under Glover has included several leading business and civic leaders, such as Stephen Selig, George Howell, Janise Ware and Bob Giolito in addition to other board members previously mentioned.
Reed also said “that 17 years is too long for her to have been there.”
He does believe her exit from AHA “could have been handled in a more graceful way,” but he blames Glover for prematurely announcing that she was negotiating her departure.
Several Atlanta leaders are surprised with the mayor’s displeasure of Glover, who has enjoyed an outstanding reputation.
“Renee is a quiet heroine for the City of Atlanta,” said Juanita Baranco, co-owner of Baranco Automotive who has held a host of civic positions. “She really set the model for the country on how you deal with public housing, and it’s a model that I believe will withstand the test of time. She has done this city a great, great service.”
Larry Gellerstedt III, CEO of Cousins Properties, agreed. Gellerstedt used to be chief operating officer of the Integral Group, a company that has been involved in several of AHA new mixed-income communities.
“Renee was just relentless,” he said. “She was focused on how we can improve the situation for residents. Renee has had a human focus on the individuals and their families.”
At one point, Gellerstedt wrote her a letter saying: “I think you are one of our community’s greatest heroes, and few people know what you’ve done.”
“I hope she gets credit for what she’s done and that doesn’t get lost,” Gellerstedt said. “She’s a hero.”
Reed said he knows that Glover has her admirers.
“She does have fans, and I don’t have any problem with those people,” Reed said. “But I don’t believe that having fans means you should keep a job for 21 years.”
Looking ahead, Reed said he plans to have the AHA focus more on the working-class poor. After Glover’s exit agreement is reached, he expects to name an interim AHA director while the city conducts a nationwide search “for the best candidate.”
But the question remains — by not developing a relationship with Glover, did Reed miss an opportunity to leverage her national contacts for Atlanta’s benefit?
As it now stands, we’ll never know what could have been.